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Know Your Font with Spector, the "Shazam" for Typefaces

This clever invention also recognizes colors and sends all its findings directly to your computer.
Images courtesy Fiona O'Leary

A clever new tool for the font-infatuated promises to put guesswork to rest when it comes to typeface inspiration. Billed by WIRED as "the Shazam for fonts," Spector is a simple-to-use device being devleloped by UK designer Fiona O'Leary that can precisely identify fonts with a single click. Spector can also capture colors—identified by both CMYK and RGB values—storing up to 20 inspiring finds at a time, or connecting directly to your computer to apply them to a project in real time.


It's useful for artists compiling the perfect moodboard, but the O'Leary's idea actually grew from a frustration with designing print projects on her computer. "It never looks like it does on screen as it does in the finalised print," she explains to The Creators Project. "You have no idea of scale of the page or typography and colours often visualise differently too. I came up with the idea if you are going to design for print on screen, why not start with print material? And why not make it interactive?"

O'Leary's design takes advantage of recent advancements in machine learning, most recognizable in the psychedelic puppyslugs of Google's Deepdream algorithm. Instead of recognizing and build images of animals, she and interaction designer David van Gemeran taught Spector to see Apercu, Bureau Grot, Canela, Dala Moa, Founders Grotesk, Eames, and GT Walsheim, with more on the way.

Spector is still in the early prototype stages, O'Leary admits. It requires sharp, clean source material, which must be 48pt font size or less and captured right-side-up. There are also limitations that may never be surmounted, such as the need for a varied sample of glyphs. "The letter 'O' is usually not very distinctive, but a 'g' or 'G' can possibly pinpoint a font from a single glyph," O'Leary says. She will spend the next two years bringing Spector up to Kickstarter quality, which she hopes to offer for no more than $80. In the meantime, you can pick up Pantone's color identification tool Capsure for a cool $649, and feed hastily-snapped pictures of fonts into Adobe's DeepFont plugin.


While the "Shazam for fonts" name is catchy, O'Leary points out that it's just one of Spector's functions. "Its worth understanding that it doesn't just identify the font, but also tell you all the other details like size, color, kerning, leading and where you can buy it," she says. "I see this tool as more of a way of seeing how to understand typography and making typesetting more transparent by communicating [a font's] invisible factors." While lifting the veil of arcane typographical knowledge for beginners, it also solves O'Leary's original problem: fonts that look different on screen and in print. She envisions the final version including a book of fonts that will link print to digital as demonstrated above, which will "take the guessing game out of typesetting," once and for all.

See more of Fiona O'Leary's design work, including a keyboard that lets you copy and paste to multiple clipboards, on her website.


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